Viewpoint: What’s Next In Drone Monitoring

In recent years, the public image of drones has changed from undesired, unexpected and sometimes alien devices to becoming human extensions, with their incorporation in logistics, security, exploration, agriculture and personal transport uses. 

To secure a smooth and further integration of drones in our daily lives, the development of effective monitoring of drone activities will be a key component.

Keeping track of drone movement must evolve according to the growth of the industry, and drone trackers must develop user-friendly interfaces to provide drone traffic information in real-time. 

The early stages of UAV radars and detectors have gradually adapted to the latest releases by market-leading drone manufacturers.

This will enable real-time monitoring of UAVs in action, such as in parcel delivery, assistance on building construction or the irrigation of crop fields. This will also help mitigate the still existing malicious uses of drone technology by identifying the drones in action. 
Drone monitoring technology keeps evolving to the point of turning every smartphone or computer into a real-time drone movement monitoring device. Similarly, some websites and apps provide live updates on aerial traffic such as Freedar UK. 

Many tech giants in the drone industry and in mobile communications are working to create digital platforms that will enable the integration of a new sort of aerial traffic: the unpiloted team. 

Projected growth in drone use will help alleviate the congested roads in the largest urban areas and reach the remotest locations in rural settlements. Tracking methods will play an essential role. The vision of technological growth is to create an aerial road, so to speak, in which drone traffic can coexist harmonically and in a controlled manner.
Drone detectors and trackers vary depending on the cost, range and functionality. If we take the clock back a few years, we can find pioneering drone radars reporting any small aerial activity in a customized rudimentary platform. However, since UAVs have evolved exponentially as well, companies have adapted their products accordingly. 

Today, the market offers a wide selection of cost-effective drone detection solutions integrating cutting edge communication systems, such as radio frequency (RF) passive detectors, which analyze frequency spectrum activity and detect the presence of drone’s complex communications protocols using machine learning and artificial intelligence, (e.g., DroneShield, Dedrone, Drone Defence). 

Moreover, rock stars of mobile communications, such as phased array antennas, have made a triumphal entry in the world of drone detection by adapting military-grade equipment into user-friendly and easily installable drone detectors (e.g., Aaronia, Radiansa, Echodyne). 

With special attention to the latest releases from Echodyne, such as EchoGuard which offers exceptional and compact drone radars and ensures a simple way to combine their effective counter-drone radars with additional devices, creating the much-needed system interoperability to lead the way in future developments. 

In addition to more sophisticated hardware, manufacturers are creating digital platforms to present all the data gathered by their products, which converges in a single item: a website or an app.
Beyond the development of drone detection systems, classification must be another key aspect of aerial unmanned traffic. This must be supported by enabling regulation on intelligent detection systems. This feature will determine the purpose of any individual vehicle in transit within an invigilated airspace. 

By classifying the drone activity in the skies, not only there will be better control of the programmed and expected movement of the service UAVs, there will be a timely alert of any potential malicious drone surrounding an area of interest. 
Today, 869,994 drones are registered with the FAA, of which 350,608 are commercial vehicles and 515,997 are recreational. Similar proportions are shown by the UK Civil Authority.

This suggests that most registered vehicles are for personal, non-commercial use, which, despite being registered, could be subject to malicious purposes.

Illegal or unauthorized drones could disrupt the privacy of a household, smuggle illegal merchandise, or in the worst case, drop explosives over a target. For this purpose, the classification of UAVs must be a priority for the drone detectors and trackers. 

Drone manufacturer DJI has taken the first step in integrating a classifier with a user-friendly interface with DJI Aeroscope. DJI recently unveiled the RF/radar sensor able to detect, track, monitor, and classify any drone activity within a range of 50 km.

Since DJI drones constitute nearly 70% of the market, a DJI Aeroscope would cover a large proportion of the possible unauthorized flights within the coverage area.

The sensor displays a map with real-time drone movement. It is expected that the rest of the leading UAV manufacturers will follow this trend soon. 

This will allow a unified standard to keep track of their own drones in similar interfaces or will agree on the compatibility or interoperability of these platforms within a single mobile app or website. A good example of these platforms is AirMap, which can be downloaded to Apple devices and has begun to gather relevant data from different sensors around the world. 
All in all, the current trends on drone tracking systems seem to be adapting well to the upcoming developments from leading manufacturers. However, special attention must be given to developing easily accessible platforms where relevant data of drone traffic can be consulted on the go. 

Although it is true that the latest trends in hardware are incorporating the best of the available commercial technologies and are powered by artificial intelligence, it is also essential to consider the user as the new recipient of this information and not a specialized business capable of understanding large and complex amounts of data.

Governmental legislators and regulatory authorities are also adapting the rules to enable this integration to a brave new world. These trends must keep on the path of reaching unification.

Sergio Rodriguez is an engineer supporting Access Partnership’s Infrastructure practice. He holds a BSc in Electronics and Communications Engineering from the National Polytechnic Institute of Mexico (IPN) and an MSc and PhD in wireless communication systems from The University of Sheffield, specializing in 5G reconfigurable antennas. He is a member of the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET). Before joining Access Partnership, he has held positions at Siemens, The University of Sheffield and Drone Defence Services.